Taking Off Our Masks

  • This description accompanied the gallery exhibit at Yonkers MBK's Third Anniversary Celebration Visual Arts Showcase on November 15, 2019.

    Taking off Our Masks reveals the dramatic contrast between the outer “masks” we show the world and our true inner lives.

    Like all of us, the young men of Yonkers My Brother’s Keeper sometimes project confident, light-hearted or indifferent attitudes, while their real feelings of sadness, fear or loneliness remain hidden – often from themselves.     

    These masks were created by Yonkers MBK students in grades 7 through 12 from Gorton High School and Enrico Fermi School. Art teacher Susan Lashley facilitated the creation of the Plaster of Paris masks, which were molded to each student's face and painted to reflect the color of his skin. They represent the work of a powerful character-building program known as Phase Five, which is designed to empower young men of color to overcome barriers and meet societal challenges with confidence and knowledge of self. By sharing their hidden emotional realities with one another through a series of exercises, they become aware of common experiences and begin to develop trust and honest dialogue.

    Inspired by The Mask You Live in, a documentary about the psychological and sociological problems created by expectations of “masculinity”, Public Safety Officer Robert Bannister introduced the mask concept to Yonkers MBK in 2017. Specifically, it was the work of the Ever Forward Club, a nonprofit mentorship organization in Oakland, California featured in the film, that became a foundation of Phase Five.

    Since 2017, hundreds of MBK students around the District have participated in the mask workshop, as Gorton High School students have been empowered to share it with teachers, classmates, other MBK school chapters and visitors from organizations including the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.

    As they learn about themselves and each other, these students have become part of #100KMasks, a global initiative created by the Ever Forward Club to gather 100,000 masks from around the world.